Overcoming a Google Penalty: How SEO Inc. Increased a Client’s Organic Traffic by Over 170%

Here at SEO Inc., prospects and new clients often reach out to us because their website’s rankings are suffering from a Google penalty. They usually come to us for two reasons:

1) They have been penalized algorithmically, meaning their site has drawn the unwanted attention of a Google algorithm like Panda or Penguin. These algorithms are designed to decrease website rankings when they find things like low quality content or spammy links.

2) They have been penalized manually by Google. Usually this is the result of their previous SEO company having engaged in blackhat link building tactics.

SEO1

We recently had a new client reach out to us because he suspected his current web development company was doing something illegitimate to his site, which was causing it to lose traffic. He had recently relaunched his website with a modern and responsive design, and he had signed up for SEO with the same company. However, aside from some recent positive traction, organic traffic wasn’t nearly what it had been in previous years or even recent months. In fact, it had decreased significantly.

SEO2

Our client was fairly SEO-savvy, so right away he noticed that some things had not been done with the new site, which raised some major red flags.

Missing redirections. A lot of the old pages had not been redirected to the new pages on the site. This means the SEO value of the old URL’s was not being passed to the new URL’s.

Missing alt text. Many of the images were missing alt text, which provide essential information that allows blind or handicapped users to browse the site.

Slow website speed. Our client believed his website seemed slower than it should have been.

Needless to say, he wasn’t satisfied with the results and depth of knowledge exhibited by his previous company.

Our Goal

SEO Inc. resolved to work with our new client to restore his rankings to a consistent level and increase his organic traffic using legitimate, proven SEO strategies. We would perform an audit of his entire website, essentially leaving no stone unturned as we inspected his site on a page-by-page basis as well as on the whole to root out and remove toxic links. We would also aim to improve his on page optimization, leveraging unique content and keyword distribution to enhance relevancy and authority for his pages.

Link Detox

SEO3

Once we could review the client’s website in depth, we made a startling discovery – his previous company had been building links to his website using black hat SEO tactics. They had used a common tactic called a Private Blog Network (PBN). This was a network of WordPress sites this company owned and operated, and its sole purpose was to publish articles that would link back to their clients’ websites using exact match, money (high value) anchor text. This PBN was particularly easy to identify, as all the sites under it linked to each other and pointed back to this company’s website as well – a clear sign of black hat webspam and of trying to “cheat” the ranking system.

Because we could identify the PBN so easily, we knew it was only a short matter of time before Google would crack down on our client, having issued manual penalties in the past for using PBNs to artificially inflate rankings.

Our Solution

Once our client came onboard, we performed a thorough link detox of his site. This process involved looking at each backlink pointing toward his site and immediately disavowing the PBN sites. In the days and weeks following the Google algorithm Penguin 4.0 (which targets webspam in real-time and rolled out in fall of last year), we saw a noticeable increase in organic traffic to our client’s site.

Page Speed and Image Optimization

Another challenge was to correct our client’s 404 errors that his previous company had ignored. Optimizing the website’s page speed and load times became another large focus of the project. We did indeed find that the website was performing at a less than ideal speed, which when combined with the lack of redirects, would make for a poor user experience and reduce the sites organic visibility.

Our Solution>

We worked to make sure that all our client’s old URLs were redirected to their new counterparts. This would allow the pages to carry over the “link juice” value to the new site, preserving the flow of traffic from the old pages to the new.

We took advantage of several newer technologies to take the website’s page speed to new levels, specifically HTTP/2 and PHP7. HTTP/2 replaced the older, slower HTTP website protocol, while PHP7 provided a stronger scripting language for web development purposes.

As for his images, we compressed all of the images on his website losslessly using the WordPress plugin WP Smush and used W3 Total Cache to combine and reduce the number of CSS & JS resources used. This would cut back on the amount of scripting needed to load the website. We also added descriptive alt text to his images, optimizing them to be able to be understood by users with disabilities and adhering to ADA standards.

Page Speed States Before Implementation:

SEO4

Page Speed States After Implementation:

SEO5

On Page Optimization

Once we had taken care of the mission critical SEO tasks, we could shift our focus to his on page optimization. His previous company had implemented a damaging keyword strategy that goes against Google’s guidelines. We found numerous instances of overlapping and duplicated keywords in his meta tags and headers. Since so many pages shared the same focus keywords, a lot of his pages were prevented from ranking for additional key terms.

Our Solution

We discussed with our client how to ensure a strong keyword strategy for each page by positioning the keywords to target a specific service or topic. Then, we incorporated them into unique content with no overlap between pages.

Rich Snippet Optimization

SEO6

In addition to the on page optimization work, we also added various structured data formats to enhance the site’s search result listings and click through rate. We created a testimonials page on his website to list all of his reviews and ratings and then added AggregateRating Review Structured Data to showcase his 5 star rating in the search results. We also added Breadcrumb markup to make the URL listing more digestible and appealing to both search engines and users. In addition to the structured data mentioned above, we added the following additional formats:

These additional formats allowed his site to gain added value from Google’s search results listings, as they are now eligible to be featured in prominent sections on the page.

White Hat Link Building Campaign

Last but not least, we took a purely white hat approach to building links to our client’s site. Unlike the previous company’s tactics of forging backlinks using an illegitimate PBN, we wanted to provide real value to his website and his visitors by building links that were related to his industry. We were able to leverage services such as HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which connects journalists with experts to answer their questions using thorough research and know-how to create the foundation for a strong link profile for our client.

Conclusion

We are pleased to report that after our on page optimization efforts, page speed improvements, rich snippet additions, and the implementation of our keyword and content and strategy, our client’s website performance increased drastically:

  • Organic traffic increased by 170%
  • Page load time reduced from 4.8 seconds to 1.2 seconds
  • Page sizes reduced from 2.68 MB to 676 KB

We are thrilled to have helped pull our client out of his SEO troubles, securing his site and making it more appealing to human users and search engines.

A way to promote your awards

First place championship trophy or cup in front of blackboard with champagne and fireworks concept for winning and successOnce you’ve won an award for your work, it’s important to do everything you can to promote that win, both inside your company and without.

Awards Finder is a new website that was designed to help marketers find award programs that fit their marketing needs. They also offer the ability to promote the awards you have won with a post on their Awards Finder Blog.

To submit your award for consideration, use this short form to submit your details to Award Finder.

 

Insights from the WebAward Judges

Each year at the conclusion of the WebAward program, we ask our esteemed panel of WebAward judges a series of questions to help participants better understand what the judges are looking for and to improve the website recognition program for the next year.

PositiveOn the survey last year we asked “When judging a site, what usually had the greatest positive impact on your score?” 35.6% of the judges responded that outstanding design was the thing that helped bring up a score. The criteria that had the second most responses was ease of use with 23.7%. Content was in third with 15.25% of the judges relying on this criteria the most.

 

NegativeAt the other end of the scale, we also asked what had the most negative impact on your scores. Not surprising, 39% of the WebAward judges said that bad design was the top criteria when they scored a site poorly. Ease of use (18.6%) and Navigation (15.25%) also played a factor when the judges felt a website did not live up to its potential.

These results remind us that first impressions are important when developing a website.  Even though the WebAwards uses seven equally weighted criteria to determine a websites final score. Judges are asked to review the site as though they were the target audience. They then add their experience and expertise and understanding of current web trends to provide a score for the entry.

With each entry being reviewed by up to five different judges, we then take the average of the top two scores to determine the entries final score. This way we strive to provide the most fair judging of any awards program available to the online marketing community.

To have your website judged by professionals in the 2017 WebAwards, enter at www.WebAward.org

New Publication Available for Online Marketing Professionals

WMM coverWeb Management and Marketing: The Peer-Reviewed Journal is a major new professional journal publishing in-depth articles and case studies on all aspects of management and marketing in the rapidly changing environment of ‘The Web’.

Each quarterly 100-page issue provides actionable advice written by and for web professionals on topics ranging from web design and development to content strategy, and from website regulation to search engine marketing.
Web Management and Marketing: The Peer-Reviewed Journal provides a high-quality, peer-reviewed forum to showcase innovative strategies, techniques and best practices employed by major brands, the public sector and not-for-profits around the world that maximize customer experience and ROI.

“In a world filled with opinion, temporary fixes, hacks and plenty of guessing; it is the perfect time to have a peer reviewed journal to help sort through the noise.  Real world practical advice from the experts in their field – long overdue and most welcome.”
 
To pay by credit card from within North America call 800-633-4931 or subscribe online.
• In the rest of the world call +44 (0)207 092 3474 or
subscribe online.
• Or just email
francesca@hspublications.co.uk . We can send an invoice if you prefer.

Use discount code “WMMWEB010” to receive 10% off your subscription.

Internet Experts Needed To Judge 21st annual WebAward Competition

2017 WebAward Competition for Website DevelopmentExcellence deserves recognition and the Web Marketing Association is looking for experienced Internet professionals who can help judge the Websites that are entered into its 21st annual international WebAward competition, the standards-defining award program that sets industry benchmarks based on the seven criteria of a successful Web site. Interested individuals can submit their names for consideration using the WebAward Judges Nomination Form.

The 2017 WebAward Competition for Website development is currently accepting entries until May 31, 2017. Judging will begin in mid-June and run through early August.

Judges will consist of a select group of Internet professionals who have direct experience designing and managing Web sites,–including members of the media, interactive creative directors, site designers, content providers and webmasters – with an in-depth understanding of the current state-of-the-art in Web site development and technology. Past judges have included top executives from leading organizations such as Universal McCann, SapientNitro, T Rowe Price, Bridge Worldwide, Disney, Euro RSCG, Boeing, Huge, ING Direct, VML, Facebook, J. Walter Thompson, Gartner, Possible Worldwide, YUM!, Cuker Interactive, PayPal, Razorfish, Munich Re, Refinery, Ernst & Young, Magellan Health Service, Microsoft, R/GA, Family Cookbook Project, Saatchi & Saatchi, SAP, Starwood Hotel, and Website Magazine.

If you or someone some one in your organization would make a good judge, they can learn more and enter their name for consideration on the WebAward Judges Nomination Form.

“The vast majority of our judges return each year to participate again as a WebAward judge, but some need to take time off from judging and because of the popularity of the WebAwards there is a constant need for new judges”, said William Rice, President of the Web Marketing Association. “Prior to the beginning of the judging, we spend several weeks discussing the current state of Web development and how it should be recognized through the WebAwards.  Being a WebAward judge is a valuable experience that helps the individual better understand overall Web development and of course looks impressive on a resume or corporate bio”.

Web Marketing Association To Recognize Best Websites of 2017

2017 Best Website AwardsExcellence deserves recognition and the Web Marketing Association is pleased to announce the call for entries for its 21st annual international WebAward competition.  The WebAwards are the standards-defining competition that sets industry benchmarks based on the seven criteria of a successful Web site.  It recognizes the individual and team achievements of Web professionals all over the world who create and maintain outstanding Web sites.  The deadline for entry for the 2017 WebAwards is May 31, 2017.  A complete list of past winners and this year’s entry form can be found at www.webaward.org.

Websites are judged on seven criteria, including design, innovation, content, technology, interactivity, copy writing and ease of use and receive a numeric score.  Each WebAward entry is judged against other entries in its industry category and then against an overall standard of excellence.  Entrants also benefit from receiving valuable feedback from the WebAwards professional judging panel on their Web site development efforts.

This year’s top awards will include:

A “Best of Industry” WebAward will be given in each of the 96 industry categories, including financial services, medical, small business, travel, advertising, transportation and government.

The competition’s highest honor, the 2017 WebAward “Best of Show,” will be given to the one site that the judges believe represents the pinnacle of outstanding achievement in Web development.  Last year’s Best of Show winner was BETC Paris for their outstanding work on The End of Society Simulator.  The site was also recognized as Best Entertainment Website and Best Media Website and Best Mobile Website.

The Web Marketing Association will also recognize the interactive agency winning the most awards in the competition with the “Top Interactive Agency” WebAward. TravelClick, Inc. was named Top Agency at the 2016 WebAward Competition, taking home 29 WebAwards in 2016. The Top Agency Award is given to recognize the consistently outstanding development going on at interactive firms.

The WebAward Top Agency award recognizes consistency of effort and is given to the interactive agency that wins the most WebAwards in a given year. All locations and offices of a specific agency will be consolidated for the purpose of determining the winner of this award. Each entrant will be awarded points based on the level of award for each award received. A Best of Show will be worth 10 points, Best of Industry 5 points and each Outstanding award 3 points and a Standard of Excellence 1 point. The agency with the most points will be awarded the Top Agency Award for 2016.

Each year, many agencies and some corporations win multiple awards and deserve additional recognition. This year, we will recognize each organization that wins 6 or more WebAwards with an Outstanding Interactive Developer trophy. In 2016, there were 14 agencies recognized with this prestigious award.

Interactive and advertising agencies that win a 2017 WebAward will automatically be included in the Award Winning Agency Database with a free premium listing.

Judging for the 2017 WebAwards will take place in June through August and winners will be announced in September.  Judges will consist of a select group of Internet professionals who have direct experience designing and managing Web sites,–including members of the media, interactive creative directors, site designers, content providers and webmasters – with an in-depth understanding of the current state-of-the-art in Web site development and technology. Past judges have included top executives from leading organizations such as Universal McCann, SapientNitro, T Rowe Price, Bridge Worldwide, Disney, Euro RSCG, Boeing, Huge, ING Direct, VML, Facebook, J. Walter Thompson, Gartner, Possible Worldwide, YUM!, Cuker Interactive, PayPal, Razorfish, Munich Re, Refinery, Ernst & Young, Magellan Health Service, Microsoft, R/GA, Family Cookbook Project, Saatchi & Saatchi, SAP, Starwood Hotel, and Website Magazine.

Check out our Web Marketing Association Facebook Page and be sure to like us as we will be providing hints and tips on how to improve your chances on winning a top award though out the award program entry period.

The 2017 WebAwards are sponsored by the following leading organizations: EContent Magazine, iContact, PR.com, ad:tech conferences, Cranberry Radio, and Website Magazine. The Web Marketing Association thanks these companies for their commitment to the entire online marketing community.

To enter the 20th annual WebAward Competition for Website Development, please visit our website and create a nominator account.

Win a Free Conference Pass to eTail West!

etail-west-img-2017This month we are offering retail professionals the chance to win a free full conference pass to the industry conference eTail West 2017, February 27 – March 2, 2017 at the JW Marriott in Palm Springs, CA.

eTail, launched in 1999, is the premiere multi-channel retail conference dedicated to supporting the growth of the retail industry through high-level networking and extensive thought leadership. eTail West was launched as part of the eTail Conference series to speak to the unique challenges facing retailers looking to grow their brand in the market.

To enter simply go to the WMA Contest page and enter. Learn more about this leading industry conference here.

 

eTail West 2017

etail-west-img-2017eTail West 2017
February 27 – March 2, 2017
JW Marriott, Palm Springs, CA
 
Wonder how Avon continues to be the leading social selling beauty company in North America? Come to eTailWest 2017 to find out! Download the agenda to learn all the details.
eTail, launched in 1999, is the premiere multi-channel retail conference dedicated to supporting the growth of the retail industry through high-level networking and extensive thought leadership. eTail West was launched as part of the eTail Conference series to speak to the unique challenges facing retailers looking to grow their brand in the market. Download the agenda to learn more: http://etailwest.wbresearch.com/agenda-mc

 

Attend Industry Conferences for Free!

This month, the Web Marketing Association is holding a drawing to win a free full conference pass to two outstanding industry conferences.

adtechnyad:tech New York – November 2-3, Javits Center NYC — From Fortune 100 to emerging start-ups, innovators across industries converge to discuss the new era of advertising and marketing technology. This 20th Anniversary of ad:tech looks to be the most comprehensive yet with exciting hands-on exhibitions, invaluable learning opportunities, and the players reimaging the future of the industry.

nfiNetFinance Interactive – Nov 29-Dec 1, Carlsbad CA — The event for FS executives, NetFinance Interactive is the one-stop shop for digital and multi-channel thought leaders. It’s an event where you’ll learn, gain inspiration and find solutions for your business – all while building lasting relationships.

To enter either drawing or both, visit the WMA Contest Page before the end of day on October 25, 2016.

Redesigning an agency website – trying to outsmart your older self

If I’ve learned anything in the past decade of running a software consulting company, it’s that redesigning your own website is an extremely difficult endeavour, just for the sheer fact that you are your own client with extremely high expectations. This made me cautious to any undertaking that involved a redesign of our website.

It’s been 2,5 years since we last redesigned our website. The website we created in the winter of 2013 could still hold it’s own (even in todays terms of quality), and we were still getting a lot of compliments for it. Also, to be very honest, we could have managed completely fine as a business with the old one.

New vs. old Infinum website New vs. old Infinum website.

But, our team wasn’t happy with the current state of affairs and wanted to change things. The designers wanted to create a completely new look and feel. The developers weren’t happy with the code, mostly because we’ve increased our development standards so much since then.

Everyone just felt that we’ve improved so much over the past 2,5 years and that our website should show it. We recently celebrated the company’s 10 year anniversary and felt this was a good occasion to do a redesign. So we threw caution to the wind and went for it.

Who are we doing this for?

Whenever you approach a major task like a redesign, you need to have a clear idea of why are you doing it, and what are the business goals you want to achieve.

We set out with a simple, but important, process:

  • Analyzing existing website traffic – we went into Google Analytics and researched in-depth where our visitors are coming from and what pages are they visiting
  • Defining personas – who are our main visitors, why do they come to our website and what do they care about?

After that, we defined two primary personas that we’d be building the site for. All subsequent decisions would be made with these two personas in mind.

Two different personas Defining personas helped us focus our efforts during the entire redesign process.

  • The Client – someone who wants to build a digital product. He/she may be a manager at an established company, running their own startup or working at an agency. The Client is looking for a quality design/development shop that can build the product or work in cooperation with his/her team. The Client has a rough vision of the product and a dedicated budget.
  • The New Hire – someone who wants to work on building digital products. He’s interested in the type of work we do (iOS/ Android/ Rails/ JavaScript/ UX/ UI Design). He may have experience, he may be in college or he may work with different technologies and is looking for a career change. He’s laid back and wants to work with like-minded people.

Presenting the work

Probably the most important part of our website is presenting the work we do in the form of case studies. It’s one thing to say we do good work, it’s another to actually put it up on display.

From a branding perspective, we wanted each case study to be branded according to the clients (or projects) individual brand. If we were to present this work “inside” the Infinum website, the brand would be mixed up with the Infinum brand so we wanted to avoid that.

Also, we wanted to make it easy for the visitor to jump in and out of different case studies. We thought the idea of having a case study pop out, and then pop back in after you’re done viewing the case would do the trick.

The JavaScript team had their job cut out for them – to make the Zoomer work as the crazy designers imagine it.

For this, we built a custom case display system we call “Zoomer”. We prototyped the interactions and animations for Zoomer in Keynote and Adobe Flash (yes, Flash is still good for something) and we immediately fell in love with the concept. You can see it on our Homepage or in the Client work sections.

Our stuff

We do a lot of stuff internally that’s not billable client work. It’s either productized software (like Productive), education initiatives (like iOS/Android talks or Infinum Academy) or open source contributions.

We do this for a variety of different reasons:

  • it improves our internal processes
  • it improves our skill that we leverage later for Client Work
  • we use a lot of open source, so it makes sense to give back to the community
  • it’s fun to do so it’s kind of a creative outlet for us

Our old website didn’t talk about this part of Infinum enough, so we needed to change that. We created Our stuff where we will showcase this aspect of the company.

Careers

As we mentioned earlier, one of the most important Personas visiting our website is the New Hire. Our old website had the Careers section listed as a 2nd tier item, somewhere under the “About” section. We wanted to raise the importance of this.

More importantly here was to convey the work atmosphere, and the way we take care of everybody (gym, health checks, ..). So, an imperative here was to use only real photos, no stock photography. No bullshit, just the real stuff.

Selfies

And when it comes to real photos, it doesn’t get more real than this. For the People section, we wanted people to be able to express their own personality, so instead of doing professional photos of the crew, we told everyone to take a selfie of themselves.

What we learned from this is that we need to work on educating people what a selfie actually is.

Selfies

Can you spot the selfie imposter?

There’s no About page

Currently, our website doesn’t have an About page, and this is on purpose.

We figured it’s kind of stupid to have a special About page, since the whole website is basically about us. The best way to find out “About” Infinum is to:

I just hate lengthy mission statements and wanted to avoid talking about how great we are and let our work speak for ourselves.

Hiring us is now even easier

We improved our Request For Quote (RFQ) form to make it even easier to Hire us for any projects you might have. We scaled down the number of questions, while staying true to the facts we need to know before engaging in a project:

  • About you and your business
  • About your project
  • Your deadlines
  • Your budget
  • Your target audience

The typography

A lot of thought went into selecting the right typography. This was also a mini rebranding event for us since we’re changing our base typography set.

We wanted to choose a clean typeset, but also one that has character and that would leave an impact. The idea was to avoid trendy and overused fonts like Futura, Circular and Proxima. Those are some great fonts but we wanted to try something different.

Typography considerations

A couple of typography versions we considered before reaching our goal.

After bouncing around a couple of ideas and testing a number of different fonts, we fell in love with the monolinear geometric grotesque typeface GT Haptik. It has a regular and rotalic style, and includes alternate versions of certain characters (like G, C etc…) that also have a strong influence on optical legibility.

Alternate character versions

Alternate versions of certain characters we use.

A continuing story

We wanted a feeling of continuation on each page, so after you get to the bottom of a page, you can continue the story by following the prominent links in the page footer. We wanted to emphasize this with extra-snazzy page transitions, and this is the part where the designers really pushed our JavaScript developers to the limits.

Extra snazzy page footer animations.

The backend

For the backend, we use a custom CMS. Apart from serving blog posts, it also handles RFQs, Client surveys, Event signups and a couple of other doo-dads. All the copy editing is done via Phrasing, making it simple to tweak any wording when we feel like it.

We use Amazon Cloudfront to serve our images quickly to visitors and also Google PageSpeed Module for further optimization.

Phrasing in use on the Infinum website

Phrasing is an open-source library for live editing copy on websites.

The frontend

The old website was built on Bootstrap because…well, everything was built in Bootstrap back then. In the meantime, Bootstrap proved not so great at doing everything, so we ditched it and went with a custom set of frontend technologies that would be more flexible and easier to maintain in the future.

We didn’t want one big CSS/JavaScript framework that solves everything, but rather a loosely coupled set of different libraries, each great at its job.

As an example, some of the techniques we used include:

  • SUSY – the subtext for this project says it all – “CSS Libraries are a bloated mess of opinions about how to do your job. Why let the table-saw tell you where to put the kitchen?”
  • Lazyr – Lazy loading of images keeps everything running smoother, especially on mobile
  • BEM methodology – Block Element Modifier is a methodology, that helps you to achieve reusable components and code sharing in the front-end.
  • SVG images – all around we use Scalable Vector Graphics. This especially makes sense on retina displays.

The result

It took us about 2.5 months of working on the website in tandem with client work to get it out the door. We launched the beta version at our 10-year anniversary party. A couple of our closest friends and partners got a glimpse, gave us feedback, and we improved on that feedback.

The team behind the website

The team behind the new website on stage at the Infinum 10-year party

The devil is in the details, and there is a bunch of special details scattered all around the site for you to find. We don’t want to give anything away, so browse for yourself and explore.

We hope you like it, and if you have any comments, drop us a line at hello@infinum.co.

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